Jack the adult male Satin Bowerbird
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
Live footage streaming from the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum.
From 18 June 2013, you might spot an unusual blue teapot among the array of blue things set out for the bowerbirds. This is an artwork made by Toby Ziegler for the exhibition ‘The Red Queen’ now showing at MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. Toby is curious to see how the Satin Bowerbirds respond to his ‘bower’ and its colourful decorations – and this response is streamed as a live video feed to MONA. His installation is entitled My vegetable love; Cultural exchange; and, as part of this exchange, we have lent one of Jack’s bowers for display at MONA.
Our original web camera focuses on a section in the Forest Gallery that is frequented by many of the resident animals. If you're lucky, you'll see Jack dance in his bower.
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Who's who in the bower?
The Satin Bowerbirds
Jack is blue and has a black band on his right leg.
For the first seven years, male Satin Bowerbirds look exactly the same as females. After this point, they develop full blue plumage to tell the females they're ready to mate. Jack was already blue when he arrived from the wild in 2000 – so that makes him over twenty years old!
Some of the bowers you can see in the gallery were made by Jack. These impressive stick archways are not nests or houses, but displays for attracting female bowerbirds. To woo a potential mate, he decorates the ground around the bower with blue objects – even odd-looking human things like pen lids or bottle caps. When a female approaches, Jack does a funny song and dance in his bower to impress her. You have the best chance of seeing him dance in spring, when the bowerbirds are ready to breed.
Errol is blue and has an orange band on his left leg.
Errol was only a few months old when he came to the museum in 2004. In 2011 he began to turn blue and now competes with Jack for man of the house! Before he learned to build his own bowers, Errol practiced repairing and dancing in one of Jack's.
Like all bowerbirds in the Forest Gallery, Errol loves to hang out at the bird feeders and snack on fruit and mealworms, and occasionally the plants!
Brittney is mottled olive and has a green band on her right leg.
Since arriving at the museum with Errol in 2004, Brittney has produced around two offspring a year with Jack (sometimes four!). After mating, she puts her bowerbird construction skills to use and builds a nest out of sticks for her eggs. This nest is usually very high and secluded in one of the trees, which makes it very difficult to spot. She likes her nest to be hard to find, as it keeps her offspring safe while they grow. Once the eggs have hatched, Brittney can be spotted carrying mealworms to the nest to feed her young.
These bowerbirds are mottled olive, and may or may not have bands.
There are often many other young bowerbirds in the Forest Gallery. These are the most recent offspring of Jack and Brittney – all the older birds have gone to new homes at zoos and wildlife parks around Australia. Otherwise the Forest Gallery would be very crowded!
The leg bands on the bowerbirds help us keep track of who is who in the Gallery, but they don't hurt the birds.
Superb Fairy Wrens
You may be able to spot some of the small Suberb Fairy Wrens making their way around the Forest Gallery. They could be looking for insects, which are their favourite meals. During the August to March breeding season, males moult into spectacular patches of blue plumage. For the rest of the year, they are brown like the females.
It should be easy to spot the brightly coloured Red-browed Finches as they move through the gallery together. The adults have a brilliant red stripe above the beak, and one is rarely found on its own. Keep an eye on the bushes to see if you can spot this species as it hangs out in the bower after chowing down some of its special Finch Mix from the bird feeders.
Once the weather begins to warm up, the bower becomes a favourite basking spot for the Forest Gallery's two species of lizard – the Water Dragon and the Cunningham's Skinks. The Cunningham's Skinks are dark lizards with spiny-looking scales and can often be spotted hanging out together, and even crawling on one another. The Water Dragons are lighter, striped and love to hang out near the water – but they spend almost all of their time on land. The lizards especially love to hang out in the bower when we leave a feast of vegetables and mealworms and nutritious pellets out for them on warm days.